© 2024 Allbritton Journalism Institute
Richard Blumenthal
A group of four parents who lost children to suicide following online harm flew into D.C. to advocate for passing legislation as soon as possible. Jose Luis Magana/AP

It’s a Big Week for Lobbying Congress

There’s likely one last must-pass piece of legislation this spring, and everyone wants a piece of it.

Lobbyists and advocates know they likely have one more chance to get Congress to act on pet projects before September, and it’s giving senators some headaches on the spring’s final must-pass legislation.

Less than a month after Congress passed a bill to force the sale of TikTok, a bill to help parents monitor their kids’ social media activity and require companies to mitigate certain harms has gained traction. The vehicle to make it law is the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration, which expires on May 17.

Plenty of senators are trying to get their unrelated priorities glommed onto the FAA bill — from a nuclear compensation plan to a child tax credit to the expiring internet subsidy.

The Kids Online Safety Act, which has broad bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House, is in the mix, and has parents with compelling, devastating stories of loss leading the push for its passage, circling Congress.

Still, adding any non-FAA-related measures to the bill could delay its passage and ultimately force the House’s hand, limiting its ability to negotiate changes under the looming deadline.

“We support FAA as a vehicle. We need this to move [KOSA] any way that it can,” Josh Golin, executive director at Fairplay for Kids, which organizes parent groups, told NOTUS.

A group of four parents who lost children to suicide following online harm flew into D.C. this week to advocate for passing KOSA in any way possible. The trip was preplanned as this week also marks 100 days since Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologized to parents during a Senate hearing on kids’ online safety.

Opponents also jumped on the possibility KOSA gets attached to the FAA bill this week.

Digital rights organization Fight for the Future released a script for constituents to call members of Congress to urge them “to oppose the Kids Online Safety Act and any attempt to add KOSA to must-pass legislation, like the FAA,” the script reads. “This bill would be a threat to free speech online and puts LGBTQ+ kids at further risk, in an already scary time for them.”

Opponents argue that KOSA incentivizes censoring content and that it could be weaponized by state legislatures already seeking to restrict access to queer and trans content. NetChoice, a group backed by Big Tech, sent a letter to Senate leadership opposing adding KOSA to the FAA bill Tuesday.

As it currently stands, Democrats say they’re moving forward on germane amendments; Republicans say outside priorities are unlikely — but not impossible.

“We’ll have a better read on that for the next day or so,” Republican Whip Sen. John Thune told reporters late Tuesday.

Lobbyists are swirling around the relevant amendments too. One that would pause expanding the TSA’s facial recognition program had the U.S. Travel Association accusing Congress of “threatening to create chaos at airports.” Sen. John Kennedy told NOTUS, “TSA is foaming at the mouth,” for Americans’ biometric data.

Sen. Bill Cassidy isn’t counting on his regulations for social media and minors — a bill called COPPA — making it on. “They’re only allowing germane amendments. It’s not going to be able to get on there right now,” he told NOTUS Tuesday.

But Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who is sponsoring KOSA, is holding out faith. “We clearly have the 60 votes this assembly, so my objective is simply to get a vote, and this is just that opportunity.”

The more legislation added to the FAA, the more complicated things get. For example, there are key differences between the House and Senate versions of KOSA, notably in terms of what companies would be impacted.

Florida Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor, who is sponsoring the House version of the KOSA, told NOTUS that she’s fine with it passing through the FAA bill instead of going through the House markup process.

“Congress has not acted fast enough, so I would elevate the kids and the urgency for action over having it stuck [in] Congress for many more months if ever getting out,” Castor said.

House Republicans disagree: “I would prefer that we mark it up,” Republican House co-sponsor, Florida Republican Rep. Gus Bilirakis, told The Washington Post.

As the Senate is gearing up for a week of heavy debate — with plenty of outside pressure — leading up to the May 17 FAA deadline, senators are bracing themselves.

“I don’t feel good, I don’t feel bad,” Blumenthal said Tuesday night.

Claire Heddles is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow. John T. Seward, a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow, contributed reporting.